MILWAUKEE — A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee doctoral student is working to preserve the history of the city's professional Black baseball team from the 1920s.
A love for baseball and history has led Ken Bartelt to uncover the story of the Milwaukee Bears.
"They did have a rough season with 14 wins and 52 loses and one tie, so they were not really a success," recalls Bartelt.
In 1923, this group of Black professional baseball players were in a league of their own.
"When the Negro league was founded, this was very controversial, they tended to hire white umpires," said Bartelt. "The Black press really pushed Rube Foster to hire Black men to be umpires. And finally, he did in 1923 and right here in Milwaukee at Athletic Park, one of the first ever games umpired by Black men."
The team didn't have a home diamond and had to rent out Athletic Park, better known now as Borchert Field, when the all white minor league Milwaukee Brewers were not playing.
"A lot of the players were from Chicago, some had played with Rube Foster, some were from New Orleans too," said Bartelt.
Bartelt has only been able to find one picture showing a few of the original team members, however for the past few years the Milwaukee Brewers, who were a minor league in 1923, have paid homage to the Bears by wearing their throwback jerseys during the regular season.
"These people wanted so desperately to play a game that they loved professionally, and they brought a lot of joy to their community. I think that sometimes get lost," said Bartelt
Bob Kendrick, president of the National Negro League Museum in Kansas City Missouri, is determined to make sure the stories of these players and the Negro League is preserved.
"When you delve deeper into this story, you learned that the story is so much bigger than the game of baseball," he said. "This is a story about the importance of economic empowerment, this is a story about an unprecedented level of leadership and ultimately, this is the story of the social advancement of America. "
Both Kendrick and Barelt agree, just as significant as Jackie Robinson was to breaking the color barrier in 1947, so is the existence of the Negro league and teams like the Milwaukee Bears.